ATLANTA – The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable internet access and the gaps in digital access. According to data from the New American Economy Research Fund, 43.7 percent of low-income households lacked access to personal high-speed internet at home, more than double that of the rest of the population. With many school systems implementing hybrid learning models this fall, the risk to students and families without access to the internet remains critical.
To help bridge the digital divide, the Georgia Department of Education and Verizon Public Sector today announced a new program to provide wireless broadband data and voice services to underserved communities. Verizon’s new digital access initiative makes connectivity for mobile hotspots, smart phones, laptops, and other selected equipment available to eligible recipients through state agencies, political subdivisions, and not-for-profit organizations.
“Georgians – including students and families – need access to reliable, high-speed internet, and as a state we’re committed to working together with communities and industry leaders to close the digital divide,” Governor Brian Kemp said. “We’re proud to partner with Verizon on this initiative that will expand internet access to students across the state of Georgia.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic made the connectivity gap in Georgia more apparent than ever,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Students throughout Georgia, including in rural areas, need access to digital devices and the internet connectivity to power their learning. This partnership with Verizon will help us ensure that no student is left unconnected.”
In addition to Georgia, state agencies or not-for-profit organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia can currently participate in this program. Eligible recipients in these states include those who participate in the National School Lunch Program, Pell Grant recipients, and members of households (as defined by federal tax guidelines) with a household income that is lower than 135% of the income designated by the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
This digital access initiative is modeled after the Verizon distance learning program, which provided access to reliable, affordable Internet connections and solutions for more than 38 million students1 in 40 states and the District of Columbia during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we worked with state and local governments to provide connectivity for students shifting to online education as quickly as possible,” said Jennifer Chronis, Senior Vice President, Verizon Public Sector. “A significant digital divide persists, and our mission for our digital access program is to help bridge the connectivity gap by using the same model as distance learning to serve low-income households.”